Archive for May, 2010

Weekly Water Saving Tip

Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. A taller lawn shades roots and holds soil moisture better than if it is cut short.


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Word of the Day – Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetostearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol or cetylstearyl alcohol  is a mixture of fatty alcohols, consisting predominantly of cetyl and stearyl alcohols and is classified as a fatty alcohol. It is used as an emulsion stabilizer, opacifying agent, and foam boosting surfactant, as well as an aqueous and nonaqueous viscosity-increasing agent.

It imparts an emollient feel to the skin and can be used in water-in-oil emulsions, oil-in-water emulsions, and anhydrous formulations. It is commonly used in hair conditioners and other hair products.

It is not really an “alcohol”, such as rubbing alcohol, which would dry the skin, but it is an emulsifying wax, made by combining fatty alcohols from vegetable sources, such as coconut alcohol. It can also be made artificially.

It is used often in cosmetics as an emollient, thickening agent, moisturizer, emulsifier, stabilizer, opacifier as well as a carrying agent for other ingredients. It is a substitute for making lotions if you don’t have emulsifying wax as well.


When compared to Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alchol offers enhanced viscosity building effects as well as improved penetration of other ingredients. Cetearyl Alcohol has long been known as a “carrier” and “penetration enhancer”.

This widely used fatty alcohol is often employed as the sole conditioning agent in crème rinse or hair conditioner formulations, as it adequately moisturizes and improves wet/dry combout.


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Word of the Day – Liquidum Paraffinum

Liquidum Paraffinum – Interesting I found this ingredient in many of my skin care products at home.  Besides the idea of an oil by-product been used on my boys’ skin, I want to eliminate our dependency on non-renewable resources.  I will be looking for an alternative for our skin care now…

Petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores. Interferes with skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Used in many products (baby oil is 100% mineral oil!) Any mineral oil derivative can be contaminated with cancer causing PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap.

  • Mineral oil
  • Liquidum paraffinum (also known as posh mineral oil!)
  • Paraffin oil
  • Paraffin wax
  • Petrolatum


Paraffinum liquidum

Purpose: Lubricant, emollient
Adverse effects: Aka mineral oil, this cheap ingredient produces a temporary moisturising effect. Penetration enhancer,can cause skin (scalp) dryness. Can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Some PAHs are potential human carcinogens linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.


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Word of the Day – Petroleum

Petrolatum – semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum; used in medicinal ointments and for lubrication

A petroleum derivative also known as petroleum jelly. Petrolatum is very occlusive and can clog pores. Additionally it provides no nutritive value to the skin and contains no essential fatty acids.

 Harmful Ingredients One of the biggest offenders found in skin treatment cream is petrolatum. Petrolatum, also known as, petroleum jelly is commonly used in just about everything.

It is really a by-product from crude oil. When used on the skin it has a ‘clogging’ nature to the pores. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it is. Petrolatum is usually concealed as mineral oil which sounds very healthful. Liquid petrolatum is mineral oil.

It and other petroleum products have been suspected as having cancer connections. Don’t use it if all possible. There are safe alternatives. Ingredients That Are Safe -Grape Seed Oil -Avocado Oil


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What is vermicomposting?

What is vermicomposting? Why use worms? Known also as worm compost, vermicast, worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, vermicompost is similar to plain compost, except that it uses worms in addition to microbes and bacteria to turn organic waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Vermicompost, or vermiculture, most often uses two species of worms: Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) or Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus) rarely found in soil and are adapted to the special conditions in rotting vegetation, compost and manure piles.

How does vermicomposting work? It works like this: after procuring a container and setting it up (more on that in a sec), feed your worms the same organic waste you’d toss in a compost pile — which includes just about all of your food waste, save the animal leftovers — and let them have at it.

They chew on it for awhile, and when they’re all done eating, they poop (hey, everybody does it) and there you go: vermicompost.

The benefits of vermicomposting with worms

In addition to increased nutrient levels, worm castings contain millions of microbes which help break down nutrients already present in the soil into plant available forms. As the worms deposit their castings, their mucous is a beneficial component absent from compost produced by hot or cold composting.

The mucous component slows the release of nutrients preventing them from washing away with the first watering. Worm compost is usually too rich for use alone as a seed starter. It is useful as a top dressing and as an addition to potting mixes at a rate of one part castings to 4 parts mix.Your plants will love it.

Using vermicomposting bins
Unlike compost, which can work its magic in a pile in your backyard, vermicompost requires a bit more structure to work, usually in the form of a bin. Bins can be made out just about anything, but they require drainage and air flow to be built in, so things like styrofoam (very insulating, and may release toxins into the worms’ environment) and metal (too conductive of heat and cold) are generally less desirable, and plastic requires more drainage than wood be it can’t absorb moisture. The design of a bin usually depends on where you want to store the bin (in your kitchen, basement, backyard, etc.) and how they wish to feed the worms.

Most small bins can be grouped into three different groups:

Three categories of vermicomposting bins

  • Non-continuous bins are undivided containers that start with a layer of bedding materials — shredded paper and the like — that line the bottom. Worms are added and organic matter for composting is added in a layer above the bedding. Another layer is added on top of the organic matter and the worms will start to compost the organic matter and bedding. This type of bin popular because it is small and easy to build, but unfortunately they’re more difficult to harvest because all the materials and worms must be emptied out when harvesting.
  • Continuous vertical flow bins use a series of trays stacked on top of one another. The tray on the bottom, using something like chicken wire as the base, is filled first in the manner described above (bedding, worms, organic waste), but is not harvested when it is full. Instead, a thick layer of bedding is added on top and the tray above is used for adding organic material. When the worms finish composting the bottom tray, they head for more food and migrate to the tray above. When enough of the worms have migrated, the bottom tray can be collected with just a few straggling worms left behind (they can then go in the tray above). Because of the separate tray, these bins provide are easier to harvest.
  • Continuous horizontal flow bins use a similar structure to the vertical flow, but line up the trays horizontally instead.The bin is usually horizontally longer than the vertical version is tall, and is divided in half, usually by a large gauge screen of chicken wire. One half is used until it becomes full, then the other half is filled with bedding and organic matter (pictured below). Over time, the worms migrate to the side with the food and the compost can be collected. These bins are larger than a non-continuous system but still small enough to be used indoors, with the added bonus of being easier to harvest.

Vermicomposting: How to get started
When beginning a vermicomposting bin, start by adding moist bedding — things like shredded paper, dead leaves and other materials high in carbon (it’s should mimic the worms’ natural habitat, in dried leaves on a forest floor) — into the bin, and add the worms to their new home.

Bedding is the living medium for the worms but also a food source, so it should be moist (something like a wrung-out sponge) and loose to enable the earthworms to breathe and to facilitate aerobic decomposition. Other common bedding materials can be used including newspaper, sawdust, hay, cardboard, burlap coffee sacks and peat moss.

Most vermicomposters avoid using glossy paper from newspapers and magazines, junk mail and shredded paper from offices, because they may contain toxins, which aren’t good for the system. Be wary of cardboard, as it cannot be used if it contains wax or plastic, which takes things like cereal boxes, and other boxes designed to hold food items, off the list.

Vermicomposting tips
A few tips: In warm climates, especially in the summer, keep the bin in the shade or away from midday direct sun — just like compost, it should stay moist.

Quantities of kitchen waste added depends on the size of the worm population; at first, feed the worms approximately one-half their body weight in kitchen scraps a day at most. That is, if you have one pound of worms, feed them about 1/2 pound of kitchen scraps each day.

When they become more established, you can feed them closer to their entire body weight, though it’s best to wait to add new food until the old food has been processed by the worms.

Troubleshooting odor and pests in vermiculture is similar to the same procedures used in composting; if the bin starts to stink, it’s probably because there is too much nitrogen (which comes from “greens,” which are things like grass clippings), so add some high-carbon “browns” (things like dead leaves and shredded paper), keeping the ratio the same as in conventional composting, about 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen (see our piece on compost for more details on this).

Rodents and flies are attracted by certain materials and odors, especially meat. This problem can be avoided by using a sealed bin, since the pests can’t get at it, though simply avoiding animal products, rather than relying on special containers, is probably the easier way to go.

More info on vermicomposting
Check out, and for more info, tips and tricks to vermiculture.


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How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

In addition to metrics like ecological footprint, each of us (and each of the products and services we use and consume every day) has a carbon footprint; it’s a way to measure the relative impact of our actions — as individuals, as businesses, communities and countries, as we eat, work, travel, play, etc. — in terms of the contribution made to global climate change.

Measured in carbon emissions (usually in pounds, tons or kilograms), it’s become an increasingly useful and popular tool to help contextualize global warming in our daily routines and lives. What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service, and everything has one, from the computer you used to find this article to the next meal you eat (and the one after that, and after that, and so on…) to the shoe that will leave a physical footprint on the ground the next time you walk outside. But that’s only part of the story.

Calculating carbon footprints
First of all, carbon footprints can be calculated in one of two ways: using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method (more accurate and specific), or it can be restricted to the immediately attributable emissions from energy use of fossil fuels (more general). To use your car’s carbon footprint as an example: the first method would take into account all carbon emissions required to build the car (including all the metal, plastic, glass and other materials), drive the car and dispose of the car; the second would account only for the fossil fuels that resulted from building, driving and disposing of it.

Further, there’s more than one way to run the numbers, depending on how they’re going to be used. Top-down calculations, , that calculate per capita carbon footprints, take total emissions from a country (or other high-level group, organization, etc.) and divide these emissions among the residents or otherwise applicable group. Bottom-up calculations, like with your car’s carbon emissions from the example above, sum attributable carbon emissions from individual actions.

But it’s not just about the carbon –

Okay, so everything has a carbon footprint, and each can be measured a couple different ways, but it’s not just a matter of carbon dioxide, though that is the most common of greenhouse gases (GHGs) other than water vapor; other GHGs include (but aren’t limited to) methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons (see the IPCC list of greenhouse gases for a more thorough list).

Given this, still, most carbon footprint calculations include all applicable gases, as they all contribute to the greenhouse effect and our persistently warming globe.

“What is my carbon footprint?” Calculating your own footprint
Though a fairly complex calculation, with many variables that are different for each person, carbon footprint calculations generally include energy used to power our homes and transport, including travel by car, airplane, rail and other public transport, as well as all the consumables we use on a regular (and irregular) basis; many of the individual factors above can be calculated separately (e.g. an individual carbon footprint for your home, travel, food, etc.).

Once you understand what goes in to your carbon footprint, and, probably more importantly, what your carbon footprint is, you can start reducing it; indeed, for as many ways as there are to create a carbon footprint, there are ways to reduce it.

Reducing your carbon footprint
Increasing the efficiency of our energy use, reducing our energy use and changing a few habits (like eating less meat, eating more local food, not traveling by airplane as much) are some of the quick, easy ways to cut back on the size our individual carbon footprints.

Where do carbon offsets fit in carbon footprints?
After increasing efficiency and reducing use, carbon offsets are also an increasingly popular (and increasingly controversial) way to help mitigate our carbon footprints — see TreeHugger’s How to Green Your Carbon Offsets guide for more on that. But the point remains: there are many, many ways to reduce and even eliminate your carbon footprint; most every article you’ll read on TreeHugger will be related to carbon footprints and emissions, though some more directly than others.

Moving forward, we expect to see more and more information about the carbon footprints of the things we encounter and use every day; carbon labeling for produce is catching on the UK, and we’ve seen carbon footprint measurements for everything from cheeseburgers to Christmas, and sushi to Shaq.


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Pee Power

Battlefield battery Can Be Powered With Pee

Photo via Popular Science In the quest for alternative, small-scale energy producing technology, one company has invented a device that can power electronics with something you’ve been just flushing down the toilet all this time–your pee.

The portable, pee-powered battery, called MetalCell, can create enough of a charge to power a laptop for over four hours. The technology, while seeming to be modern, is actually reminiscent of an electricity producing method used close to 2 thousand years ago.

According to Popular Science, the battery was designed by a South Korean company for military situations where it may be hard to find power for electronic gadgets. It’s small enough to be transported easily and can produce energy to run equipment when no other sources are available.

Aside from urine, the MetalCell can produce electricity with just saltwater. Inside the battery are magnesium plates which react with sodium to generate a small amount of electricity. A report on the MetalCell’s capabilities says the chemical reaction may be a more convenient power generating method other methods are unavailable: The device, known as MetalCell, is a backup power source that runs on sodium and can keep a laptop charged for more than four hours, its maker says.

The design is relatively simple: a small, ruggedized box with magnesium plates inside. If an electrical gadget — anything from a computer to a flashlight — runs out of energy, a soldier on the battlefield could pour saltwater into the MetalCell and use the device as an emergency power source.

This method of producing a small amount of electricity resembles technology that dates back to nearly 2 thousand years. An artifact was discovered bearing similar qualities that may have been used to generate low-level voltage.

Known as Baghdad Batteries, terracotta jars were found containing a copper cylinder and an iron rod that some believe could produce electricity when an acidic substance, like lemon juice, was added. Just how much electricity the MetalCell can produce, and how readily available the materials needed to make are, could determine its viability in non-military applications.

While it may not be superior to renewable sources like wind or solar generated power for long term energy needs, this pee-powered device could be an alternative in the future–or for when nature calls.


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